Introducing: Darcie Bernhardt

NINGUQING, 2021, oil on canvas, 48 x 71 1/2 in.

We are thrilled to introduce the luminous paintings of artist Darcie Bernhardt, which will be shown at the gallery for the very first time in her solo exhibition, Darcie Bernhardt: Akisuktuaq, opening June 5, 2021.

Raised in Tuktuyaaqtuuq, Northwest Territories, Bernhardt is an Inuvialuk/Gwich’in artist currently based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A recent graduate of the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design University (BFA, 2019), she has already emerged as a painting powerhouse, capturing the attention of prestigious corporate and institutional collections across Canada. Bernhardt’s large-scale oil paintings engage the perspectives of her grandmother, her mother, and herself, drawing on the theme of intergenerational memory. She uses her own personal archives as reference material for the paintings and incorporates varying elements of light, colour, and pattern to reflect the ever-changing quality of memories as they transmit from one generation to the next.

Bernhardt’s work has steadily gained recognition since 2019, when the Inuit Art Foundation featured her paintings in their booth at Art Toronto. That year, the Royal Bank of Canada acquired Bernhardt’s luminous large-scale abstract piece Daydreaming About Icefishing (2018) and included Bernhardt in the RBC Emerging Artists Project, alongside artists Anique Jordan, Marigold Santos, Jagdeep Raina, and Caroline Monnet.

In 2020, Bernhardt was awarded the Indigenous Artist Recognition Award from Arts Nova Scotia, and in 2021 her painting Nungki (2019) was acquired by the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Her work has been exhibited across Canada including at Qaumajuq at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, where her canvas Jijuu Playing Bingo (2018) is included in the new Inuit art centre’s inaugural exhibition, INUA.

We caught-up with Bernhardt to ask her some questions about her forthcoming solo exhibition at the gallery, her first major show in Toronto*:

NANUK BRAIDING MY HAIR BEFORE BINGO, 2019, oil on canvas, 36 x 24 in.

What does Akisuktuaq mean; why did you choose that title for the show?

Akisuktuaq is an Inuvialuktun word. When translated to English it means “striking a shiny object with its rays.” I prime my canvas with rabbit skin glue and it reminds me of springtime when the snow looks like small diamonds scattered everywhere. I chose this title because my paintings remind me of how the light is in the North, bright, strong, and shiny even in the darkest times of the year.

Can you explain your process in a bit more detail, starting from sourcing the reference material through to the completion of the work? How do you choose your images? 

The idea that our memory constantly changes is something I think about often. All of the images I choose are personal archives from my photo album. It is important for me to use my own archives as a way of decolonial preservation. I’m preserving the significant moments of the people who inspired and challenged me. It’s important to have representation of Inuvialuit and Gwichʼin people.

The gallery is thrilled to be featuring oil paintings on canvas, which so few of our artists normally work with! Has oil always been your preferred medium?

My first medium growing up was drawing and I still continue to sketch out and use watercolour paintings for preliminary sketches. It helps me figure out perspective, colour palettes and composition. I like to try different mediums and I have also done charcoal drawing and oil on glass animations that have been shown in international film festivals.

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Darcie Bernhardt: Akisuktuaq will run from June 5 – June 26, 2021 at Feheley Fine Arts. Due to COVID-19, the exhibition will be presented virtually with the possibility of by-appointment in-person viewings, contingent on the pandemic situation in Ontario. Stay tuned for gallery programming including a virtual talk and exhibition tour with the artist.

*Interview from email correspondence with Darcie Bernhardt, May 2021.